Meeting in Sydney earlier this month, the foreign and defense ministers of Australia and Japan pledged closer defense cooperation. In an email interview, Thomas Wilkins, a senior lecturer at the Center for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney, discussed the strategic relationship between Australia and Japan.
WPR: What are the top priorities on the bilateral agenda between Australia and Japan?
Thomas Wilkins: There is no single stand-out issue for the annual Australia-Japan “2 + 2” Foreign and Defense Ministerial Meeting talks, but rather a consolidation of relations around the issues of security cooperation, trade liberalization, energy security, climate change and disaster relief. These priorities were set out in a meeting between the Australian and Japanese prime ministers in April 2011 and followed up by Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Defense Minister Stephen Smith with their Japanese counterparts, Koichiro Gemba and Satoshi Morimoto, in Sydney on Sept. 14. If any one issue is highlighted it will be the question of maritime and territorial rivalries in the East China Sea, where China disputes Japanese control of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, and in the Sea of Japan, where Japan disputes South Korean control of the Takeshima/Dokdo islands. As tensions mount and the pressure rises, Tokyo will seek Australian support, which will be forthcoming to the extent that doing so does not directly provoke Beijing. Such diplomatic assistance will be closely coordinated between Australia and Japan with their U.S. ally.